Paul helps Thunder force Game 7 against Rockets

LAKE BUENA VISTA (AP) — Chris Paul and the Thunder had their backs to the bubble wall, a tougher spot than usual when facing elimination.

This time meant lots of packing, getting ready for a potential return home after a long time away. They weren’t interested in their trip — or their season — ending. “We’re not ready to go yet,” Paul said.

He made sure they wouldn’t.

Paul gave the Thunder at least one more game at Disney, scoring 15 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter for a 104-100 victory over the Houston Rockets on Monday night in Game 6 of a Western Conference first-round series.

Paul made two free throws with 13.1 seconds left and the game tied at 100, and Danilo Gallinari added two more after a turnover by Russell Westbrook to finish it off.

Game 7 will be on tonight, with the winner advancing to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers. James Harden said the Rockets’ mindset will not change. “To go win,” he said. “It’s simple.”In a game that was close all the way — neither team led by double digits — the Thunder bounced back from a blowout in Game 5. And nobody handles close games better than Paul, who led the NBA with 150 points in clutch situations, defined as the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is five or fewer points.

Gallinari added 25 points.

Harden had 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Rockets, while Robert Covington had 18 and Westbrook 17 in his second game back from a right quadriceps strain.

Oklahoma City Thunder’s Dennis Schroder during the second half of an NBA first-round playoff basketball game in Lake Buena Vista. PHOTO: AP

But they combined for 12 of the Rockets’ 22 turnovers, saying Houston has lost the close games more than Oklahoma City won them.

Houston got its most dominant playoff victory in Game 5, winning 114-80 after holding Oklahoma City to 31.5 per cent shooting. But the Thunder shook that off, just as they did a 2-0 deficit in the series.

Westbrook scored five straight points to open the third and the Rockets would get the lead as high as nine in the period. But Gallinari kept it from getting any worse and then Lu Dort, a dreadful three for 16 overall and zero for nine from three-point range in Game 5, had a layup and two 3s for an 8-0 run that ended the quarter and sent Oklahoma City to the fourth with a 77-75 lead.

Oklahoma City extended it to eight, but Houston wiped that out with an 18-4 run that provided a 98-92 lead.

Paul answered with consecutive three-pointers to knot it again, and he later unknotted it for good. Most of the first half was played within a margin of just a few points either way. The Thunder continued to misfire, hitting just 41.7 per cent overall and going only three for 15 on three-pointers.

But they defended well and the Rockets did not crack 30 points until more than four-and-a-half minutes into the second quarter. Harden scored six straight points late in the half and Eric Gordon hit a three-pointer at the buzzer for a 51-48 lead.